The Odd Truth, March 16, 2004

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The Odd Truth is a collection of strange but factual news stories from around the world compiled by's Brian Bernbaum. A new collection of stories is published each weekday. On weekends, you can read a week's worth of The Odd Truth.

Locusts Plague Australia

CANBERRA, Australia - A plague of locusts has engulfed towns in Australia's Outback, devastating crops just as farmers had begun recovering from a two-year drought.

The bugs started breeding in northeastern Australia after it was swamped by heavy rainfall late last month, and quickly migrated south to feed on newly planted crops of oats and alfalfa, agriculture officials said Tuesday.

"A thick haze of them came through over the weekend and chomped their way through our oats crop overnight," said Bev Dennis from her farm in Tomingley, 340 miles west of Sydney.

The oats were intended for lambs, which have struggled for two years with little green grass to eat as vast tracts of Australia experienced their lowest levels of rainfall in a century.

Agriculture officials have started spraying regions in southwest Queensland and northern New South Wales states with insecticide in an effort to stop the further spread of the plague, but they warn it could get much worse.

"Given the fact that adult locusts can migrate long distances -sometimes more than 310 miles in a night - the potential exists over the next few weeks for plague locusts to move into new areas," Agriculture Minister Warren Truss said.

Dennis said the locusts had cost them "tens of thousands of dollars" in lost income.

"If only we could chocolate coat them and send them off somewhere to sell," she said.

Cable Car Endurance Contest

SINGAPORE - Thirty-three couples on Tuesday began a competition in Singapore to see who could live in a moving cable car for a week — enduring stifling humidity, motion sickness and only 10 minutes to use the toilet each day.

Three teams dropped out before the contest even began — giving up their shot at a grand prize worth $29,300.

"We had second thoughts about it because we felt sick and so tired," said Khwanchan Aphichet, who came from Bangkok with his girlfriend for the competition.

The couple decided to withdraw when they felt nauseous after spending less than a minute in the golf cart-sized capsule — it hadn't even begun moving, he said.

Two teams — each consisting of a man and a woman — will live in one capsule and are allowed out for a total of 10 minutes a day, Singapore Cable Car event director Colin Lim said.

Organizers will provide three meals a day and water, he added.
Competitors will be monitored by cameras mounted in each car and disqualified if they engage in "sexual contact," Lim said, without elaborating.

The contest was organized to mark the cable car's 30th anniversary.

If more than one team last the week, the winner will be decided in a series of surprise tasks, Lim said.

A pair from Singapore said they planned to annoy rivals in their cabin to push them to give up.

"If they decide to talk to us, we're going to say 'Just talk to the hand!' and be really rude about it," said Singaporean Helmindra Khalim, who teamed up with his sister, Harnina.

The Birds And The Bees And The Panda

BEIJING - Chinese veterinarians have begun showing American-born panda Hua Mei sex-education videos featuring pandas mating to prepare her for "blind dates" with Chinese suitors, the official Xinhua News Agency reported Tuesday.

The 4-year-old animal, whose name means "China-America," arrived in China from San Diego in February. After her month of quarantine is complete, officials are hoping she will quickly mate with a panda at her new home, the Wolong Giant Panda Protection Research Center in southwestern China.

"We hope she can get pregnant by the end of March," said Wei Rongping, assistant director of the research center. "But first of all, she should have some sexual education."

Because Hua Mei has been in captivity since she was born, she has little knowledge of sex, so officials have shown her videos of mating pandas and brought her to see other pandas mating.

Similar sex education courses given to other pandas in the center had resulted in natural matings.

Hua Mei has been assigned four prospective mates.

"I do not know which of them will be lucky enough to mate our princess," Wei said. "It's all up to Hua Mei to find her own 'Mr. Right."'

$2 M Coke Haul Found Under Human Waste Tank

MIAMI - Some dope smugglers figured it was the last place anyone would look for drugs - but they were wrong. U.S. Customs agents discovered nearly $2 million worth of cocaine on a freighter, hidden under a holding tank that stores human waste. The discovery was made in Miami on a Bolivian coastal freighter. Customs officials say agents noticed a white, powdery substance on a drill bit used to probe the area beneath the holding tank. But conditions were so gross, officials had to call off the search. The waste tank is being drained, cleaned and aerated, before the agents will return.

Woman Attacked By Kangaroo

BRISBANE, Australia - A kangaroo viciously attacked a woman Tuesday as she picked roses outside her home on the edge of Australia's third-largest city, a report said.

Sylvia Aldren was working in the garden of her home in the northern outskirts of Brisbane when the large kangaroo pushed her to the ground and then kicked, bit and scratched her, Nine Network television said.
Aldren said she sensed trouble when she noticed a few kangaroos nearby and one approached her.

"The look in the kangaroo's eye made me feel that I knew I was in trouble," she said. "I thought this is it, he's going to kill me."
Aldren was taken to a hospital with injuries to her chest, thighs, arms and legs, the report said.

Neighbors said they have been terrorized in recent years by a mob of around 50 kangaroos that live in a nearby area.

The government estimates there are 60 million kangaroos in Australia. Most live in the Outback and rarely attack humans.

This Little Piggy Went In The Trash

PETERBOROUGH, Ontario - A Canadian man could end up in the pokey - for tossing a piggy in the trash. According to Ontario Provincial Police, Dennis Summers brought a piglet into a restaurant in a burlap bag. He was asked to leave by the restaurant staff after the animal was noticed. Police say the man dropped the little pig into an outdoor garbage can as he left. Officers figure the pig, which wasn't hurt, was stolen from an area farm. Summers now faces a number of charges, including cruelty to animals and breach of probation.

Woman Jailed For Giving Cops The Finger

EVANSVILLE, Ind. - A woman made an obscene gesture toward an SUV Monday - one carrying the county sheriff and chief deputy - and ended up in jail, police said.

Mary Ann Sweeney, 33, of Evansville was stopped behind a bus.

She pulled to the left to get around the bus at the same moment a Ford Explorer started to pass. The SUV braked to let her in, police said.

Sweeney then "flipped off" the Explorer's driver, Vanderburgh County Chief Deputy Eric Williams, he said. The passenger was Sheriff Brad Ellsworth.

The Explorer was marked as a sheriff's vehicle, but did not have a light bar on top, police said.

Ellsworth and Williams pulled Sweeney over to talk to her about her "road rage" and ran a check on her license plate.

They found that both she and her husband, Jerry DeWayne Sweeney, were wanted on outstanding civil warrants for $500 each, and that the car was illegally registered, police said.

Ellsworth said they found marijuana in the car and in the woman's purse and cigarette pack. Mary Ann Sweeney also was charged with misdemeanor marijuana possession.

The couple was taken to the Vanderburgh County Jail and later bonded out.

"I guess the moral of the story is, if you have warrants against you, you shouldn't flip off the police," Ellsworth said.

Vermont Dairy Turns To Cremation

GUILFORD, Vt. - Just up the hill from the Gaines family's dairy farm stands a small building housing a different sort of enterprise, one that the operators hope will provide personalized service - for the recently deceased.

Jim and Ellen Curley say their new venture, a human crematory, is a small family business that will provide options to the community and will help the Gaines' seventh-generation dairy farm survive.

"I view it as a service to my generation and the older generation," said Jim Curley, 54. "We're a low-volume small scale operation with a beautiful setting."

About 40 percent of Vermonters choose cremation, according to the Funeral Consumers Alliance, a national trade group based in South Burlington. Nationally, the figure is 25 percent.

The Curleys got permission from their neighbors, the Gaines, to use a wooded spot of land for their crematory. With milk prices hitting a 25-year low last year, the Gaines saw Vermont Blessings as a way to try to stay afloat.

"Having a lot of animals, we do come in contact with death," said Jackie Gaines, who lives on the farm and runs a dog boarding business there.

Vermont Blessings has done one cremation so far. The company plans to woo customers with promises of scenery, privacy and personal service.

"Our small-scale unhurried approach offers the most personalized and reverent cremation available," says the company's ad in the local newspaper.